If it's jaw-dropping, jazz-rock technical proficiency you're after, look no further than this quartet of astonishingly talented musicians. One spin of "The Shadow," the head-spinning nine-minute opener that meshes classic prog circa Brand X with a sped-up James Brown funk attack will prove conclusively that in the chops department, these guys are pretty much untouchable. But rather than fashioning themselves as a contemporary version of the '70s Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever, two obvious influences on the band's sound, Garaj Mahal expands its palette to incorporate elements of rap and world music. That is particularly evident on the sitar driven "'Spect Rap," which shifts into the edgy, slow burn of "No 'Spect." Even when jamming over a driving, repetitious rhythm, as in "Massive," the layers of electric and acoustic guitar keep the approach from getting stale, and the extraordinary individual instrumental talents, especially from bassist Kai Eckhardt, keep the music focused. Some of that dissipates, though, on "Cosmic Elevator" when vocals with sophomoric lyrics nearly derail the quartet's tough Sly Stone funk. Things get back on track for the album's closing three songs that comprise the disc's final 25 minutes. Fareed Haque's sitar guitar dominates "Bicycling in Bombay," infusing an East Indian slant to the taut, slow groove as guest DJ Fly Agaric 23's turntables add subtle hip-hop effects. "Celtic Indian" shifts through so many mood changes in its 11 minutes that it seems like a suite of different tunes all connected by the phenomenal interplay of the members. Recorded in July of 2004 but not released until nearly a year-and-a-half later, Garaj Mahal raises its already high musical bar on Blueberry Cave and sets a new standard for innovative jazz/funk/rock/prog/world music that few, if any, other bands are technically accomplished enough to meet.
AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz